Empathizing with Harry Potter: The Use of Popular Literature in Counselor Education

By Gibson, Donna M. | Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Empathizing with Harry Potter: The Use of Popular Literature in Counselor Education


Gibson, Donna M., Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development


It is evident from a review of literature that researchers strongly emphasize the use of contextual teaching, which results in situated learning, as part of counselor education (Granello, 2000; Nelson & Neufeldt, 1998). Situated learning, or learning in settings similar to those in which counselors are more likely to practice, has been applied in practicum and internship experiences (Granello, 2000). However, these are typically capstone experiences in counselor education programs. Scanlon and Baillie (1994) found that students needed to have classroom experiences that were more closely linked to practice because the students perceived that classroom learning had less application to actual counseling. Thus, the benefit of situated, or experiential, learning is that it helps students bridge the gap between theory and practice (Granello, 2000).

The need for experiential learning throughout counselor training has increased the number of expressive arts activities that have been implemented to encourage this type of learning. Counselor educators are using screen plays (Shepard, 2002), film (Higgins & Dermer, 2001; Koch & Dollarhide, 2000; Toman & Rak, 2000), case studies, and role plays (Rabinowitz, 1997) to teach a wide variety of master's-level courses. With the use of semester-long role plays, students are allowed to examine the counseling process over time. This activity encourages students to experience these counseling situations over a significant period of time and allows them to spend a considerable amount of time in problem solving both individually and collaboratively with each other and the instructor (Windschitl, 1999).

Another expressive arts activity, which is associated closely with case studies, is the use of fiction both to teach counseling and in the counselor supervision process. Although the use of literature in counselor education and supervision is not commonplace, it is a versatile and nonthreatening method of conveying information to counseling students about values, thoughts, and behavior (Gladding, 1994). This method has been used primarily in teaching family counseling (Gold & Gloade, 1988) and has been used more frequently as an adjunct teaching tool (Gladding, 2005; Pardeck, 1991). For instance, Sommer and Cox (2003) used Greek mythology in counselor supervision to help counseling students gain alternative perspectives on their own development as counselors.

In other disciplines, there is a history of the use of popular or contemporary literature in the classroom. In psychology, literature has been used to teach psychological concepts and theories while building critical thinking skills (Carlson, 1992; Cavanaugh, 1999; Crawford, 1994) and to build understanding of human diversity (Boyaltzis, 1992) and of specific populations such as older adults (Whitbourne & Collins, 1999). Because many educators in the field of sociology believe that contemporary fiction reflects society, it is often used to help stimulate students' interests and develop critical thinking skills (Cosbey, 1997; Moran, 1999; Snyder, 1997; Tolich, 1992). In addition, medical educators have also used popular literature to teach students about ethics (O'Toole, 1995) and to promote students' abilities to empathize (Smith, 1998). Finally, social work educators advocate the use of popular literature with students as a teaching tool that allows the students to gain a greater ability to apply theory to individuals, critically analyze, and be empathic toward a variety of populations (Viggiani, Charlesworth, Hutchison, & Faria, 2005).

Using popular literature as a means to teach and supervise counseling students has several benefits. When used in group supervision, popular literature allows supervisees engaged in this type of expressive arts activity to learn about themselves in relation to others (Wilkins, 1995). The creative expression elicited by these activities provides opportunities to provoke students' awareness of their thoughts and emotions in a manner that is different from traditional teaching approaches (Gladding, 2005). …

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